Tuesday, March 10, 2009

ASEAN/African Union--Still Some Way to Go for the ASEAN Community

I am both excited and disappointed by the latest developments in the ASEAN region. I am excited to hear that ASEAN wants to "accelerate" the formation of a single market; but profoundly disappointed it has to be like that of the European Union.

ASEAN is not--and should not be expected to be -- like the EU, which culture is different; furthermore, the history surrounding the establishment of ASEAN is dissimilar to the EU. Like many of the African RECs, there was no Economic Coal and Steel Community before the Treaty of Maastricht created the EU in 1992.

That the organisation agreed to move on consensus-building rather than sanctions--even with the new Charter--is a reflection already of its idiosynchratic nature.

What is not so different is the fact that there are regional leaders driving the group. In this case, it is Singapore; Thailand; Malaysia; and Indonesia. According to bloomberg, they account for almost 90 percent of all foreign investment into ASEAN.

With regard to the bloc's response to the global recession, Bloomberg reports:

Asean’s new charter, which came into force three months ago, has no mechanism to stop member countries from implementing protectionist policies. Earlier this month Indonesia ordered civil servants to use local products, and Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said it was “normal” for countries to resort to protectionist measures in a slowdown, according to local media reports.

ASEAN has always talked about free trade, and I don't believe that will change soon. What might have to be changed is the degree of political will to move forward on integration. That they have decided on a new human rights body, which has hitherto no name, is a great idea. Still critical steps to make it an important body in the ASEAN construct ought to take prominence. The naysayers and cold observers might huff and puff at the ideas for the region's processes. However, I believe that it needs to start with its charter--and the strengthening thereof--as an important step towards the critical development of its own regional integration.

What's eating the African Union?
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the African Union, the Pan-African body is getting some migraine from Guinea;Mauritania; Madagascar; and Guinea-Bissau. Need I mention Sudan? Let's watch the space for a frenetic period for the continental body. Before we do, let me leave you with a commentary by one Tom Nuttal about lessons that the AU can learn from the EU:

Tom Nuttall writing in the "Independent" newspaper of Uganda advances five lessons that AU member states can take cognizance of while conceiving of a United States of Africa.

First of all, it doesn’t take a charismatic man to drive the idea of any Union of African states. He refers to the "founding father" of the EU—a gradualist—Jean Monnet who espoused the idea of a Europe based on federal lines. Secondly, countries ought to "focus on the bottom line". In other words, they ought to believe that they will benefit mutually from being associated with each other, that leaving becomes the last thing on their mind. The third lesson is in finding "a method of integrating states while allowing them space for legitimate disagreements—and ensuring that those disagreements do not hinder the fundamental project of union." The fourth point is predicated on finding an external force, like the US in the EU after the Second World War ended in 1945, who can preside over any attempt or project to unite. Finally, adversity and challenges are necessary to advance any unification project. 

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